When God made Hell, The British Invasion of Mesopotamia and the creation of Iraq

Discussion in 'The Book Club' started by jim24, Feb 4, 2011.

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  1. jim24

    jim24 Book Reviewer

    Book Review,

    Title: When God Made Hell.
    The British Invasion of Mesopotamia and the creation of Iraq 1914-1921

    Author: Charles Townsend.

    Published by: Faber and Faber Ltd

    ISBN 978-0-571-23719-7

    RRP £25.00

    ARRSE score 5 out of 5

    A superb book on what was probably one of the lowest points in the history of the British/ Indian Army.Professor Townsend has produced an incredibly well researched tome, (600 Pages) on the history, and political intrigue of the Middle East that should have been a" must read" for every Politician and serving officer in the British Army during the recent unpleasantness.
    A British force invades the Basra area to ensure the safety of British oil resources, after initial success, the force over extends itself, Transport, supply, and medical services break down, and units are left cut off, outnumbered and slaughtered. Sound familiar. But this is not Gulf War 2 it's World War 1,
    A British Indian Army Expeditionary Force invades Mesopotamia November 1914, with the intention of securing the vital British petroleum industry in nearby Persia, ans with the hope of taking advantage of Arab nationalism in the area.
    All goes well and with the support of a flotilla of Royal Navy gunboats and the bribed local Arab leader the Turkish Army retires and all seems to be going well. The British find them selves in what was referred to as "The place with to much water for an Army but not enough for a Navy" having to fight their way through one of the largest marsh areas in the world and against all the odds manage to do this and defeat the Turks while doing so.
    Then General Nixon arrived and was ordered to relieve some of the pressure on the Gallipoli landings by carrying out an advance on Baghdad, he sent the 6th Indian Division forward under General Townsend along the river Tigris, a river to shallow for conventional shipping. What is amazing that even under such conditions the force came very close to success, defeating far larger forces until their supply situation became untenable and Gen Nixon ordered their retirement to the city of Kut al-Amara, what followed was the worst defeat of a British force since the Surrender of Yorktown, The Division was cut off and the attempts to carry out a relief must go down as some of the most incompetent military operations in history.Several attempts were made , in one attack they wasted hours dressing the lines of troops after the artillery barrage had stopped firing at the Turks, and on another the barrage was so late the British troops were already in the Turkish positions when the barrage commenced, all while the garrison cut off in Kut were becoming disease ridden and starving. There were even attempts to bribe the Turkish commander,General Nureddin with a million pounds, to let the garrison march out.
    Kut surrendered in April 1916 and the Turks promptly slaughtered the 4000 Arab civilian inhabitants and would cause the deaths of 4000 of the 10000 prisoners of war taken that day. It would appear that General Townsend was just about the only moderately effective leader in the whole campaign,as the two general sent out to try to rescue his force Generals Almyer and Gorringe were les than useless.
    When General Maude took over command in July 1916 he spent several months trying to sort the mess that Mesopotamia had become and eventually retook Kut in February in 1917, after some of the most intense fighting in the worst conditions of the whole of World War 1.
    While the military action was stumbling along the Politicians of the British, Indian ,French and even Russian governments were all conniving in the background, Professor Townsend has really done his home work and gives a brilliant narrative of all the political intrigues that were going on behind closed doors and explains the cutting up the Middle East these governments for their own post war profit and the British government do not come out of this book looking even remotely honest.

    This book shows the British Army at it's worst, the arrogant behavior of the senior officers was a disgrace but the behavior of some of the 6th divisions junior officers while prisoners was bordering on treasonous, the treatment of the prisoners by the Turks was without doubt a war crime. And even at the end of the fighting against the Turkish forces in 1918 the arrogance of the generals and the politicians only caused a number of local uprisings by the Arab population which caused the fighting to go on until October 1920.
    A number of very important points, some of which are that are still relevant today came out of this campaign,
    The over confidence of the British generals,
    The pathetic planning, lack of reconnaissance ect at one point the mapping officer did not even own a school ruler.
    The total failure of the supply train, and lack of efficient means of transport.
    The British Indian Army was not the all powerful force that it was thought to be.
    The poorly equipped Anatolian peasant conscript was as good as, if not a better soldier as the much vaunted Indian continents warrior castes fighting for the RAJ

    This book can only be described as a "Must have" for any World War 1 historian but the saddest thing is that if you change the names ,dates, and forms of transport you could well think you were reading about Gulf War 2

  2. seaweed

    seaweed LE Book Reviewer

    Fascinating. My grandfather was shot and wounded at Bait Isa 16.4.16 (the day before the relief failed) and then invalided - I have been told that the doc cauterised his wound with a red hot bayonet. I wrote this up for Military Times at the end of last year.
  3. Auld-Yin

    Auld-Yin LE Reviewer Book Reviewer Reviews Editor

    Traitor!! Selling yourself to the highest bidder - you slag :)

    Seriously, do you mind adding the bit you did for MT to the review as a comment if it is not too big?
  4. seaweed

    seaweed LE Book Reviewer

    Can't find the review .. has it been promoted yet? Plus, MT didn't pay me as my dit was 'family history'.
  5. jim24

    jim24 Book Reviewer

  6. seaweed

    seaweed LE Book Reviewer

    Ta. Dit added as requested.